ALBUQUERQUE, NM - Professional decorum dictates that there's almost never an appropriate time to sing to an interview subject.
[I would even accept the elimination of the "almost" from the previous sentence.]
But sometimes, Joss Whedon walks into a trailer of reporters and looks at the standard sea of digital and tape recorders and observes, "All of these for me? That's weird that you all got me the same thing for my birthday."
At that point, a collective serenade of "Happy Birthday" -- without advance warning, nobody paid the licensing fee -- becomes a muscle reflex as much as anything.
The "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Firefly" auteur reaches us toward the end of a two-day June visit to the set of "The Avengers" in Albuquerque, arriving after the stars of the film, one and all, have spoken nothing but praise for his work on the Marvel project, particularly its script.
Tom Hiddleston, reprising his "Thor" role as the power-hungry Loki calls Whedon "a brilliant writer and a brilliant storyteller."
Chris Hemsworth -- Thor himself -- previously worked with Whedon on "Cabin in the Woods" and, like Hiddleston, he opts to repeat his superlatives, raving, "He's great, he's got a great sense of humor."
Jeremy Renner adds, "There's no bigger fan than Joss of this world and he's a really good writer and he had a massive task to write this movie and direct it, massive. I don't know anybody who could really write this and really put in all the stuff that he really wanted to put in, cause he honors all these characters so much."
Even Robert Downey Jr., who takes pride in his tendency toward on-set script revisions revisions, admits that "It wasn't broke, so it's not like we had to fix things," calling it a relief and adding, "It's nice when the car kinda drives all by itself."
We begin the interview by mentioning all of the praise for his work.
"And now it's my turn," the birthday boy says.
I don't need to tell Whedon fans that that quote is mock-bluster and that you'd be hard pressed to more self-deprecating storyteller, especially not one who has been handed the keys to the expensive luxury car that is "The Avengers," the crown jewel of Marvel's burgeoning movie empire.
Whedon won't hesitate to admit the learning curve that a film of this scale has required. For example, he isn't shy about the reasons "The Avengers" was shot in 2D and will be post-converted to 3D.
"We were going to shoot in 3D and everybody said, 'No, the new rigs move fast and they are small. It's all going to be great' and I shot the tag for 'Thor' in 3D with that setup and after we lost three and a half hours to lens changes and unknowable camera weirdness we decided to not do that," he admits.
But he's still glad to hear compliments from his stars.
"No, everybody seems to be on board," Whedon agrees. "I'm still working on it. I hope to finish it sometime before the DVD release. It's been very fluid, but it always is with a movie anyway and especially a movie where the perspective changes nine times every scene. I swore I would never make 'Serenity' again and here I am."
And at that "Serenity" reference, it's probably best to go to a somewhat trimmed version of the Q&A between Whedon and reporters on the "Avengers" set.